Saturday, December 07, 2002

Bringing It All Home

This past week in NRO, in an article called Words of War, Alan W. Dowd took it upon himself to draft a speech for President Bush, to be used upon the occasion of war breaking out in Iraq. It's effective rhetoric and the meter and tone of it even adopts what has become the Bush style in his prepared public remarks.

In terms of content, Dowd lays out the now well known litany of transgressions and atrocities committed by the Iraqi government, against both its own citizens and upon a number of its neighbors in the region.

Saddam is the only leader on earth who has used weapons of mass destruction. In the early 1980s, he deployed chemical weapons to kill and maim thousands of Iranian troops. In 1988, he used chemical weapons against his own people, killing thousands of Kurds and causing birth defects that haunt and scar the Kurdish people to this day.

Saddam has shown himself to be a persistent threat to his region. In the span of just two decades, Saddam attacked no less than four of his neighbors — Iran, Kuwait, Israel and Saudi Arabia. He has used ballistic missiles against civilian populations in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel. He set fire to the Kuwaiti oil fields, pumped raw petroleum into the ocean, and scorched vast stretches of desert, triggering long-term health problems throughout the region and crippling the Gulf's fragile ecosystem.

But Dowd’s most persuasive remarks concern Iraq’s potential ability to place the United States in the same position of that of the citizens of Iraq and Iraq’s neighbors - that is, living at the point of a gun held by an irrational, delusional, brutal tyrant. Dowd posits that Saddam Hussein’s acquisition of weapons would create exactly such a scenario.

Saddam's neighbors can relate well to this feeling of dread. For years they, too, have lived at the point of a gun. The two previous administrations worked tirelessly to disarm Saddam and prevent him from reloading his arsenal and threatening his neighbors yet again. But Saddam still possesses vast stores of chemical and biological weapons. Along with our allies, we have concluded that, barring military action, Saddam Hussein would be able to build and deploy a nuclear weapon in as little as 1 to 2 years. Armed with a nuclear device, Saddam could blackmail America and our allies, destabilize the world, and kill tens of thousands in a single blow. We cannot allow this to happen. I will not allow the American people to live at the point of a gun.

And then Dowd’s effective call to action, firmly grounded in the hard lessons of history:

When America's interests are threatened, we must act forcefully and resolutely. That may require preemptive military action of the sort we are now taking against Saddam Hussein. This is something new for America, but in an age of terror — when mass murderers scramble to build weapons of mass destruction — the only other alternative is to cower in fear. And we will not live in fear. The old methods of deterrence and containment simply don't work with an enemy like this.

Like us, President Lincoln was forced to make decisions that defied convention and overturned precedent. When his critics challenged his course of action midway through the war and called on him to take the path of least resistance, he simply replied, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present." Like us, he lived in a time of great peril and great promise. And like us, he summoned forth the courage to face the storm. We did not contrive this danger. We did not seek this war. But we will win it. And in so doing, we will build a better world and a better tomorrow.

Given the dynamics of the proliferation of scientific knowledge and technology, I don’t think we can expect to keep the nuclear genie in the bottle forever. In time, weapons of mass destruction will be acquired by those with motivations of only death, destruction and chaos. The United States, and the civilized world, will be put to the test as to whether it can endure in the face of these ultimate challenges to humanity. It seems the first phase of this test is how we deal with the grave threats that we are able to identify in advance and for which we have the ability to annihilate. Do we peremptorily surrender and try to find ways to coexist and not provoke the monsters who openly seek our demise? Or do we take them at their word (and at their actions), face the truth like sober adults, live up to our responsibilities to the future, and eliminate them before they have the chance to metastasize? The stakes have never been higher and what we choose to do now will irrevocably direct the course of the future for generations to come.

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